LOS ANGELES >> He managed more than 3,500 games in the big leagues over 22 seasons, winning three pennants and a World Series.But now Jim Leyland was readying, at age 72 and on hiatus from his retirement job as a special assistant with the Detroit Tigers, to manage an exhibition.A well-dressed, noisy, partying, flag-waving, face-painted internationally televised exhibition, sure. But an exhibition just the same.“I’m stressed, I’ll be honest with you,” Leyland said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m stressed.” For a man who has seen so much in this sport, not even Leyland could have envisioned what he’d witness next.Just a few hours later, Marcus Stroman no-hit Puerto Rico into the seventh inning of what turned into a kick-back, no-worries 8-0 U.S. victory in the World Baseball Classic final.All that stress squeezed into nothing by the right hand of a 5-foot-8 pitcher who normally works for the Toronto Blue Jays, a pitcher who Friday gave up six consecutive hits to this same Puerto Rican team, an American who, because his mother is from Puerto Rico, could have pitched for the other finalist in this tournament.So, America, do you care about the WBC now? With all these juicy storylines? At least a little bit?Add in the fact Stroman told Fox Sports that his mom has been harassed on social media because of his decision to pitch for the U.S., and this was a performance truly from the heart, for both Stroman’s homeland and his home. Yeah, even for casual sports fans, this WBC finale was impossible to ignore.I had the opportunity to cover Leyland when he managed the then-Florida Marlins, and, I’ll be honest with you, too: I truly believe the man could chain smoke cups of coffee.Leyland, when on the job, appears just slightly more rigid than a foul pole, only the baseball itself wound tighter.So I believed him when he called the tension of competing in the WBC “unbelievable” and “right up there” with any other event in this sport, including the World Series.I also believed him when he added, “It probably sounds crazy.”It does sound crazy, at the very least, suggesting that a monumental game at Dodger Stadium in 2017 could feature any starting pitcher for the local team other than Clayton Kershaw.But that was Stroman out there Wednesday, firing up a Kershaw-like string of zeroes as the U.S. found one way to finally make Americans acknowledge the WBC in the middle of March Madness.Yes, this exhibition didn’t count, but it certainly didn’t lack meaning, the victory as real as the American high-fives and chest bumps that punctuated it, as sincere as the hugs Stroman received in the dugout after he was replaced.The country that calls baseball its national pastime had been no better than 10-10 all-time in the WBC, playing .500 no way to excite the fans or sell the experience to fellow players.Now, the U.S. has the title and the momentum that carries all defending champions.“I’m hoping in the future that a lot of the players have seen what’s happened here,” Leyland explained, “and will be a little bit more excited about playing in this event.”He said this before the game, the words only gaining significance with each out Stroman collected.Still, champs or not, the riddle remains unsolved, the WBC a tremendous concept that has every element necessary to succeed in this country – except for an ideal time to play it.Or, to be more precise, any time to play it.Cramming a 17-day tournament into a calendar year that already includes a 162-game regular season, a month of playoffs and six weeks of spring training is about as logical as trying to fit a Buick inside a batter’s box.Staging the event now means selling as authentically important games that feature something as artificial as pitch limits.Staging the event after the big league season would mean convincing exhausted players to ramp up things again — but this time with more feeling.Staging the event at midseason would mean asking a pitcher like Kershaw to expend some of his precious second-half bullets for a team other than the Dodgers.Timing, though, is only part of the quandary for the U.S. team, which won this title with — just as an example — Mychal Givens in the bullpen and Mike Trout in Arizona.There’s still the matter of trying to persuade our best players to participate in an event of supposedly profound international standing, knowing baseball’s global status is such that the sport can’t even consistently remain in the Olympics.But what happened here Wednesday night certainly won’t hurt the WBC movement for the U.S., Stroman giving up next to nothing, a starter so dominant that he was a reliever of stress, as well. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error
Stupid moneyPhillies owner John Middleton said in November the team was “expecting to spend money and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it” this offseason. He delivered on that promise as Philadelphia has improved its roster in a major way heading into 2019.In addition to Harper, Philadelphia signed outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract and reliever David Robertson to two-year, $23 million deal. The Phillies also traded for shortstop Jean Segura and All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.Philadelphia should have one of the best lineups in baseball.The Phillies may not be doneThe Phillies have already upgraded their roster, but they may not be finished adding players.Philadelphia has been linked to 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and seven-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, both of whom remain free agents.While it would take another big contract to sign either of those players, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Phillies still added one, or both, of them.Harper poised to end his career in PhiladelphiaBryce Harper appears like he’ll be retiring in a Phillies uniform.Harper will be 39 years old by the time the 13-year deal he inked with Philadelphia expires.While there’s a chance Harper could play into his 40s and sign another contract elsewhere, that scenario seems unlikely. He also could be traded at some point, though he would have to approve any deal. But, as of right now, it seems like he’ll finish his career having played for just two teams.Stars still getting huge contractsThe free agent market has undeniably been slow this offseason. However, stars have still received gigantic contracts.In total, three players agreed to deals worth $255 million or more. Harper has his with the Phillies and infielder Manny Machado inked a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres earlier this month.Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who was not a free agent, also accepted an eight-year, $260 million extension.The NL East is loadedThe National League East should be one of the best divisions in baseball.The Phillies now have stars at multiple positions while the Braves finished atop the standings in 2018 and should be contenders to take home the division title once again this season. Harper, who slashed .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs and 100 RBIs in 2018, spent his first seven MLB seasons with the Nationals. He’s a six-time All-Star and won the MVP award in 2015.Here are five takeaways from Harper’s megadeal with the Phillies. Related News World Series 2019 odds: Bryce Harper bolsters Phillies What effects will Phillies’ signing of Bryce Harper have on NL East? The Mets also added key pieces, including closer Edwin Diaz as well as infielder Jed Lowrie, and the Nationals still have a talented roster, despite losing Harper.All four of those teams have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. Bryce Harper is staying in the National League East.After a prolonged stint in free agency, the 26-year-old star outfielder reportedly agreed to a record breaking 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies on Thursday.